Interview with Martin Forth of RAPLAS on Open Materials Manufacturing With 3D Printing

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Martin Forth of RAPLAS wants to bring 3D printing to manufacturing. This is quite a popular narrative at the moment. But, far from the smoke and mirrors of startup land, there are real reasons to believe Martin’s effort over hordes of industry newbies; Martin’s experience, for one. Martin spent two years building RAPLAS and before that spent thirteen years at EnvisionTEC. This already means that he has significantly more experience than 95% of our industry. Only, before EnvisionTEC, Martin spent six years at 3D Systems, joining the 3D printing industry in 1996. 1996. Independence Day, Trainspotting, Braveheart, No Diggity, Unbreak my Heart, Clinton, 1996. Thanks to AMUG, we now consider veterans of 3D printing Dinosaurs, but Martin is practically a fern. He’s seen it all and tried to implement rapid prototyping, free form fabrication, rapid manufacturing and what not previously. So when he gets together a super experienced firm to bring production 3D printing technologies to manufacturing with a focus on resins, sand, and metal, all with open materials, we take notice.

What is Raplas? 

Raplas was set up in 2014 and develops technical solutions for industrial manufacturing and high-quality prototype development. Currently, we have released systems for the production of plastic parts and for casting applications and have shown early samples from our metal printing technology. We are focusing on high-end manufacturing applications hence the size and performance of our equipment.

How did you evolve as a firm? 

Raplas grew from the experiences of the board within the additive industries, who have all worked within the additive industries since the mid 1990’s, we felt that current technology was not addressing the needs of production manufacturing entirely , either through cost of equipment or materials, repeatability for large batch production, accuracy, surface finish  or speed. So we set about designing and marketing technology that could satisfy these requirements. All of the board, management and staff of the company have come with many years of valuable experiences of using, designing and marketing this type of technology as well as the knowledge of operations in associated industries.

What kind of machines do you make?

We make machines and materials for all additive applications all are large frame to suit the professional production markets and fully open allowing the users the widest choice of materials at competitive prices.

Why large scale SLA?

We always felt that SL has always been the gold standard when the combined attributes were added together, but had a long way to go to realise its true possibility. Our understanding of capabilities and requirements showed there was a strong need in the market for a machine that moved the technology on to another level- this was what we brought to our first beta customers with our generation one machines. When we introduced our gen2 machines we really moved forward by another considerable step in productivity and capabilities . Our Gen 2 Systems are very fast compared to other competing technologies, that is consistently physically accurate to within 50 micron over the entire build area, so it makes sense to utilise a large build area for production purposes. For instance we have a client that produces over 1000 electrical components in one build which lasts approx. 4 to 5 hours so they can produce 4000 components per day. The total annual production is 15,000 sets with 6 components per set… so the annual requirement is 90,000 parts in total. All of these  parts can be printed in less than a week and have no need for 6 injection mould tools.

What do your customers use the systems for? 

Manufacturing end use parts as well as prototypes and short test batches.

What industries use your systems?

All applications from Automotive to Audiology, Dental, Medical, NPD, through to tooling and casting.

Why should I work with you?

We feel the merits of our technology and experience of our customers is a compelling reason for potential customers to work with us. We always put the customer’s needs first and are prepared to tailor our solutions to particular clients needs if required. We recognise that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work in a production environment as clients have existing processes that we have to work alongside with. This may mean matching various speeds or material properties to fall in line with current expectations through optimisation of the system through to developing new materials specific for that client.

What kinds of materials do you offer?

We have a general purpose ABS resin in white, gray and crystal clear , class IIb medical grade resin and castable resins that have a low HDT and low ash. For mold manufacture we offer Sand and Ceramic options as well as polymer solutions for direct mold manufacturing. With our forthcoming metal solution, there will be a number of technical materials and it will initially be offered with stainless and aluminium.

What exciting new applications are you seeing emerge?

We’re seeing strong demand for extra mechanical properties and we are working with a number of different players to deliver unique solutions to customer needs. As we see Electronic devices getting smaller more precise components are required; this is pushing the boundaries of injection moulding.

3D printing has the ability to  disrupt traditional manufacturing process as a solution and not just because of low volume requirements, but because of our ability to produce small technical features which are easy to produce in AM, but in the conventional manufacturing world this can be unjustifiable or economically impossible for the moulding market.

So as electronic packaging becomes more of a technical issue we will see more firms endorse 3D printing as manufacturing solution.

What is holding back 3D printing?

Poor understanding of the value of the technology to customers and the constant attempts to shoehorn the wrong technology to customers by some manufacturers. Another thing is the cost of materials. Often the process is disregarded as production solution because of high component costs , now the 3D Printers are becoming faster the largest cost element of the component is now the material.

What advice would you give a company interested in using 3D printing for manufacturing?

“Listen to your customers and suppliers more and deliver what they want not necessarily what you think he wants…”

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